Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Featured event: Real Time at KFN, April 11, 2013


Real Time is one of Philadelphia's few monthly events that showcases the live performance aspect of electronic music.  Much of electronic music in Philadelphia is presented by DJ's at dance parties rather than the producers themselves, performing on production equipment.  Real Time requires live sets with synthesizers, drum machines, samplers, controllers, instruments, vocals, and turntablism.  It is hosted by Philly based producers Speaker for the Dead, Dr. Ew (Future Thugs, Spirit Animal, Funeral Flowers), Bombé, and Apple Juce (Shindig, Boom Bap).  Dr. Ew usually does Korg Electribe sets, Bombé and Speaker for the Dead perform off of Ableton with controllers, and Apple Juce delivers his uncanny scratching abilities on a turntable running through Serato.  Speaker for the Dead often plays drums, some times with Apple Juce, or some times with the entire team, which Speaker himself says is "definitely the most fun and really epitomizes the essence of what the event is about."  The April installment of Real Time featured the Community College of Philadelphia's electronic music ensemble M.A.R.S. (meaning told only to members) directed by the massively talented and renowned producer Starkey.  Psy.Fi's own Agent Zero is a part of this as a student of Sound Recording and Music Technology under Starkey.  This is the second time M.A.R.S. has been featured at Real Time.  Their appearance here is a full circle occurrence.

Beginning at the short lived Little Bar near the Italian Market, Real Time has been going strong for about a year and a half.  The show has its roots in L.A.C.E., an electronic music ensemble also directed by Starkey at Philadelphia's University of the Arts.  Speaker, during his time as a member of L.A.C.E., met John Bean and Dr. Ew, struck up a friends and through them met Bombé and Apple Juce.  Eventually, the group decided to team up to present an electronic music event centered around live performance.  After the strange and unexpected closing of Little Bar, Real Time was moved to Kung Fu Necktie in Fishtown.  Speaker for the Dead, who grew up playing in orchestras and pit orchestras, who holds a B.F.A. in Jazz Performance on the drum set, teaches piano and has an extensive and diverse background in music.  He is a fixture on line-ups at electronic music events in Philadelphia, including Psy.Fi's Double Dip event (which Starkey and Apple Juce have also played).  Intergalactic Interdimension had a few questions for Speaker prior to the event.

M.A.R.S. at work/Photo: Jen Web

What is your goal with the Real Time event and how does it fit into the current electronic music culture of Philadelphia?
I think the main goal was to kinda bridge any gaps between (Electronic Music) and Instrumentalists, as well as to serve as a recurring showcase for all of our area's crazy talented Live Electronic performers.  It's fun to watch live and quite different.  In fact, we're working on a video right now to try and permeate the visual aspect of Real Time.  It's really something you have to see to appreciate, IMO.  
What do you look for in your guest performers? 
Different is good.  We encourage any acts that include live instrumentation and/or vocals, but it's certainly not a requirement.  We've proudly had an eclectic group of fantastic guests; some highlights for me have been Jack Deezl (who played guitar within his live set), Colin Helb, who builds his own oscillators and other devices, Phonographiq, who is the realest Abletonaut I've ever seen, and M.A.R.S., of course, who are playing tomorrow.  They're a 9-10 piece group full of surprises.  Don't get me wrong, all our guests have been amazing, just far too many to name.  Next month we have Sela's Margel Overton (the Sophant), who plays piano and sings.  He's a beast.  can't wait.

How has the event evolved from it's original conception?  What do you wish to see happen as Real Time continues?
I think our event is just recently starting to really catch on, the past 3 have been packed and just so much fun.  There has definitely been a lot more improvising/collab-ing happening lately.  We've been talking a lot about starting to bring guests in from out of town, so you can surely be on the look out for that.  We've also discussed having more scratch DJs on as guests, I love playing drums with DJs who can really scratch, so it would be something I'd love to see happen soon.  The Residents also have plans to start playing other events as a band, should be a blast... Come see us every 2nd Thursday at Kung Fu Necktie... no cover :)

Dr. Ew/Photo: Jen Web

As soon as I walked into KFN, at around 11:15 (start time, 11:00 pm), a moderate crowd was already established.  The visuals (courtesy of VJ Kraken) were fit to the arched staged displaying the words "Real Time" in plain, yellow font with images of a various controllers and synths in the background.  Speaker for the Dead was well into his set, delivering beats at around 130 BPM (he confirmed 134 when I inquired).  The music hit the realms of up tempo electro to mid tempo dub and slower tempo [insert prefix here]-step.  When the music gave way to ambient pads under which a drum & bass beat was starting to manifest, Dr. Ew got on the mic shouting out hardware, software, and live beat production.  Speaker emphatically tweaked knobs causing audible filter changes on the lead synths.  His set up included Abelton Live and an APC40 with the outputs running through a DJM-700.  Dr. Ew's set up consisted of a Roland SP404, a Roland EF303, a Korg EMX, and a Kaossillator.  Apple Juce was running a Vestax PDX 2000 turntable through a Rane TTM 56 mixer with Serato.  Bombé was absent because of a gig in Pittsburgh.  Apple Juce started mixing his scratching into Speaker's set before beginning his own set that was marked by his signature and always enigmatic turntablism.  Dr. Ew eventually worked his live beat construction on the Electribe into Apple Juce's set, which led to his improv performance.  He programmed beats on the spot, triggering samples and other effects simultaneously.  Behind them, on the stage, various members of M.A.R.S. began preparing their respective rigs to prepare for their set.  Starkey was present to offer any assistance necessary for his students.

Starkey is a force to be reckoned with in production.  Arguably the poster-person for Philadelpia's electronic music scene, his work and accomplishments have been an exceptional influence on the city.  His work has international reach and he is beginning to gain footing in the mainstream music industry while maintaining respect for and from the underground community.  Classically trained, Starkey has taught at Philadelphia's University of the Arts and currently at the Community College of Philadelphia, teaching production and engineering.  His willingness to share knowledge with peers and students has helped groom some of the brightest stars in Philadelphia's underground electronic music scene.  He co-owns the record labels Seclusiasis and Slit Jockey Records as well.  Starkey answered a few questions from Interdimensional Intergalactic about his background and his goals with the M.A.R.S. project.

Tools of the trade/Photo: Mr. Manic

How did you get into producing electronic music and how did training in traditional musicianship and composition contribute to your exploration?
I was always into electronic music but really only started making it seriously when I was in college.  I think that training in composition and studying theory and performance shaped how I think about structuring my music and development of themes, melodies, etc.  Obviously with having an understanding of theory with training in piano and other instruments will lead you to produce a certain (sound) with a different musical direction than someone who doesn't have that experience.  There's not one way that's better than another if you have positive results, it's just that they are very different.

What software and VST's work the best for your tastes and style of music?  Are there other programs apart from these you particularly like or don't like?
I tend to do most of my writing in Logic just because I like the midi work flow.  I'm pretty fast with it as well, which I think is really important.  If you have an idea that you want to get down and develop, you need to be able to maneuver through the program quickly.  For third-party stuff I like to use Native Instruments' stuff.... lots of Kontakt add-ons as well as Reaktor patches.  I also use the Arturia synths and D-Cam Synth Squad stuff as well as a few other synths.  It's really about what will help you get the sound that a particular track is requiring.

Software plays a much more significant role in electronic music nowadays and many producers have never touched an actual synthesizer, drum machine, or sampler (not counting software integrated gear).  Would you encourage software based producers to experience the hardware method?  Why or why not?
Yeah, if you can get your hands on the hardware that's great, but due to many people's budgets, that's just not going to happen.  I do think it's important to have a strong understanding of analog production and signal flow though, so I do teach a lot of that at CCP.  I think it's important to know how a tape machine works for instance, so you can understand what the plug-ins are emulating.

What have you learned from the experience of directing an ensemble of electronic musicians and what do you hope to accomplish with the M.A.R.S. project?
I started an electronic ensemble very similar to M.A.R.S when I was at UArts, and I just think it's an interesting way to approach collaboration.  I think it opens students' minds up to new sounds and approaching the subject of what is "musical" in a different way.  I think that's important in an educational setting.

M.A.R.S./Photo: Jen Web

A majority of the rigs used by the various M.A.R.S. players involved a Macbook, but each person had their own personal peripherals to work with, mainly controller pads and keyboards.  Everything was running into a Tascam M224 line mixer, which has 24 channels, onboard effects and needles guaging the levels (as oppposed to green, yellow, and red LED's).  One set up that caught my eye was that of a performer/producer known as RelliMoon who had a Roland Fantom keyboard, an Electribe SX, and was running logic.  I also noticed a woman setting up at the microphone with an pedal in hand.  She was a singer named Brielle who used a Boss RC-30 Loopstation, allowing for layers of multiple loops recorded in real time with access to a number of effects.  A guitarist was also present whose effected tones mixed perfectly with the multitude of synth tones, samples, and percussion.  I heard everything from hip hop to trance, mid-tempo trip-hop, uptempo drum and bass, and down-tempo dubstep with elements of progressive rock, "trap music", and more.  The versatility of the musicians presented a number of highly contrasting styles in a way that brought them all together, disintegrating any lines of separation that could be created by differing musical tastes.  The quality of sound during this performance was that of a studio recording thanks to the excellent live engineering abilities of Starkey and the sound system installed at the venue.
RelliMoon's rig/Photo: Mr. Manic

The members of the ensemble played about two songs each, all providing a variety of improvised accompaniment while Brielle sang throughout.  The music tapered off with playful piano progressions, resonant pads, and Brielle's soulful, wordless vocalizing.  A brief pause in the music gave way to emphatic cheers and a "Starkey! Starkey!"  chant.  Then came another song performed by Starkey himself, a slower tempo, aggressive beat built around samples from "Gojira tai Mosura Theme" by Akira Ifukube (think "Simon Says" by Pharaohe Monch).  With strong bass sounds ripping through the drums and samples, the sound system at KFN was definitely maxed out as much it could be without distortion or clipping.  Every kick was clear as a bell while creating an almost physically-manifesting percussive impact in my chest.  The audience was hysterical and the members of M.A.R.S. were just as engaged, dancing frantically in sync with the dynamics of the track.  When the beat came to an end, the reins of loudness were handed off to the captivated crowded insisting on hearing one more song.

It was about 2:00 AM by that point, the lame curfew time for Philadelphia venues, so the music ended there but the crowd kept going, screamin things like "You guys fuckin' crush it!" and "Keep going with that shit!" and "Buck! Buck! Buck!" before one of the ensemble members got on the microphone to say "We comin' back to this muthafucka!".  Dr. Ew got on the microphone thanking everyone for coming out and for playing, and said "This is not a DJ night, this where you get a song to play at your DJ night."  Indeed!  Clearly a good time was had on both sides of stage.  The next Real Time will be on Thursday, May 14th at Kung Fu Necktie.

Check out a preview of Starkey's latest release, The Inter-Mission EP, out now on Seclusiasis:


  1. HD video of M.A.R.S. performance >>